Autism is a complex brain disorder that causes a
range of developmental problems, most notably in the
ability to communicate and socialize with other
people. The first signs of this disorder typically
appear by age 3 and continue through life.
The cause of this disorder isn't clear, and
there's no cure. But autism is a treatable
condition. Children with autism benefit from early
individualized, intensive interventions.
Causes of autism still puzzle experts
The scariest thing about autism is the uncertainties over the cause of
the disorder. Even after almost 60 years since Dr. Leo Kanner a
psychiatrist at John Hopkins University had defined the word in 1943,
doctors and scientists have still failed to pinpoint the cause of
The symptoms of autism itself vary from case to case, of which
impairments in social interaction, verbal and non-verbal communication,
and imagination, are most prominent.
Although there is no known unique cause of autism, there is growing
evidence that autism can be caused by a variety of problems.
According to Stephen M. Edelson of the Center for the Study of Autism in
Salem, Oregon, there is some indication of a genetic influence in
autism, and that the genetic link to autism may be a weakened or
compromised immune system.
Other research shown that depression and or dyslexia were quite common
in one or both sides of the family when autism was present, he said in
his overview of autism found on the Internet.
Psychologist Adriana S. Ginanjar, however, downplayed genetic factors as
the number of people affected by autism was growing each year. In the
U.S. it is estimated that there were one in every 200 children with
autism, while previously there had been one in every 1000 children.
Autism is three times more likely to affect males than females, Edelson
said, however this gender difference was not unique to autism since many
developmental disabilities had a greater male to female ratio.
In Indonesia, the number of children affected by Pervasive Development
Disorder (PDD), including autism, had also been rising in the last few
years by about 10,000 to 12,000 cases annually, accounting for between
0.15 percent to 0.2 percent of the total number of births annually,
according to the Ministry of Health.
"Genes do not cause an outbreak, there's been a report from England that
autism there is growing fast, and that couldn't be just because of
genes,'' Adriana said in a one-day workshop on increasing communication
abilities in autistic children here.
She said that autism was more likely caused by the change in the
environment, pollution, wider use of artificial fertilizers, and higher
consumption of fast foods.
As an example, Edelson cited the high prevalence of autism in the small
town of Leomenster, Massachusetts, where a factory manufacturing
sunglasses was once located. Interestingly, the highest proportion of
autism cases were found in the homes down-wind from the factory
There was also evidence that a virus can cause autism, and that there
was an increased risk in having an autistic child after exposure to
rubella during the first trimester of the pregnancy.
Additionally, there were growing concerns that viruses associated with
vaccinations, such as the measles component of the MMR (Measles, Mumps,
and Rubella) vaccine and the pertussis component of the DTP (Diphtheria,
Tetanus, Pertussis) shot, may cause autism.
"This is why many doctors now prefer to delay giving these shots to
children under three years old,'' Adriana said.
Many autistic children also seemed to have an impairment in one or more
of their senses, which could involve the auditory, visual, tactile,
taste, vestibular, olfactory (smell), and proprioceptive senses.
These senses may be hypersensitive, hyposensitive, or may result in the
person experiencing interference, such as a persistent ringing or
buzzing sound in the ears. As a result, it may be difficult for them to
process incoming sensory information properly.
Edelson said that about 10 percent of autistic individuals had savant
skills, or remarkable abilities. These skills were often spatial in
nature, such as a special talent in music and art, and mathematical
abilities in which some can multiply large numbers in their head within
a short period of time. Others could determine the day of the week when
given a specific date in history, or memorize a complete airline
Over the years, families have tried various types of traditional and
non-traditional treatments to reduce autistic behaviors and to increase
Food intolerances and food sensitivities were receiving much attention
as possible contributors to autistic behaviors, and many families had
observed rather dramatic changes after removing certain food items from
their children's diet.
Edelson said that researchers had detected the presence of abnormal
peptides in the urine of autistic individuals. It is thought that these
peptides may be due to the body's inability to breakdown certain
proteins into amino acids.
These proteins were gluten such as wheat, barley, and oats; and casein
found in human and cow's milk. Many parents had removed these substances
from their children's diets and had, in many cases, observed dramatic,
positive changes in health and behavior.